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Kevin Maher, Managing Director, Arkessa

13 April 2010 -

Kevin Maher is Managing Director of Arkessa. He has over 25 years’ experience in the mobile industry and has held leadership roles at industry-leading organisations including Ericsson, Nokia, NEC and Huawei.

Interview by Abraham Joseph of M2M Insights.

“Our priority is to reposition the company from where it has been – that is providing services and support to customers – to playing a leading role in the next stage of the market’s development”

What is Arkessa’s Mission?

Our mission is to enable the remote Internet for companies by enabling them to exert direct and cost-effective control over their assets and processes in the field. To help achieve this we have developed and continue to develop leading-edge, robust platforms and support capability to address users’ requirements.

What does someone who buys an Arkessa solution actually get?

When a customer buys our service they get web based access to our infrastructure which we call the Ark. This is a fully managed environment with security and backup, hosted by KDDI in Telehouse, London.

Customers can see their remote devices on the Internet and can securely and easily manage the exchange of data. Devices appear as if they were connected directly to the customer's desktop. This allows the customer to provision their SIMs, set data caps and have all the usual controls associated with a world-class machine to machine connectivity platform.

With our MOSAIC dashboard, we are enabling rapid visualisation and two-way interaction with devices. Smart devices can show their readings in real-time in a way which makes sense to the end user. Furthermore, customers are able to physically manipulate devices through MOSAIC.

For instance, a dial on the MOSAIC dashboard can operate a remote ventilation system while displaying real-time output of the temperature, humidity and the quantity of viruses in the air.

Recently we released Emport, our estate management platform, which has additional levels of functionality. Emport enables customers to monitor, manage and control the connections between their estate of devices using a web-based dashboard. Users have visibility of their connections and can tag and categorise connections in their estate. Also, they can combine information stored on their systems with their estate of connections to deduce recurring trends and identify anomalous devices in their estate. Relevant information is presented through customised charts and graphs for fast reporting.

What is Arkessa’s USP?

Our estate management platform gives customers the ability to do very detailed analysis of connections. For example in an industrial control application, they can have the ability to visualise data in a way that is most meaningful for them, associate data not only with a SIM card but also with a module, a device or a machine. This was not possible previously. With previous systems on the market, this mapping had to be done manually, and once you start getting above a thousand connections this became a very difficult task. Emport gives customers the ability to tie all that information together to identify where a device is, what it is doing and how it is doing it. It also gives them the facility to communicate with and control the device. This is how we differentiate ourselves from everyone else. I don’t believe there is anyone else on the market that is offering this.

Our competitors are essentially reselling wholesale connectivity from operators and providing a service level above that via a machine to machine platform that can help manage the connectivity in its basic form – for example provisioning and stopping bill shock due to data overruns. We have had this capability for some time. Emport puts us in the unique position of being able to help our customers regardless of their SIM supplier, location or nationality.

You mentioned that you were continuing to develop your platform. In which areas are these developments focused?

A while ago we recognised that early adopters in machine to machine were beginning to develop quite complex estates of machine to machine connections and that this was becoming more and more difficult for them to manage. So our focus is now firmly on helping customers and their users to make sense of machine to machine connectivity.

We are moving into a new business model in line with the launch of Emport. Our future focus is on helping both current and new customers deal with complex environments with multiple connectivity providers and large quantities of data that need to be managed sensibly. We will look very different in two years from where we are today both in terms of the volume and the complexity of the connectivity we will be handling.

What are the most promising machine to machine applications?

We work across many different verticals. We see automotive – particularly vehicle tracking and energy metering as representing the biggest growth areas in the short term. But there are a number of other more specialist verticals that are also beginning to develop and I think that over the next 2 to 3 years they will start to really ramp up. For example healthcare is showing real signs of doing that.

There are a number of other areas that will come to the forefront very quickly. For example, Industrial monitoring and control is a huge market to be tapped into. The home market also has a lot of potential. However, one of the things that has hindered its development is the huge debate over the home hub and who controls it. I think we need to see that battle draw to its conclusion before we can understand fully how the home market is going to develop.

What about other sectors? Are you making any bets or just responding to customer pull?

No, we’re not making any sector bets. We have a history and pedigree of working in FMCG, vending and industrial control. They are also sectors that are growing. Our bets are on our platforms, facilities, infrastructure and support, where we are very much geared to a horizontal service and an enablement approach.

How do you see the market changing over the next three years?

Up to this point the focus has been providing connectivity, and much of this has been one-way. With an IP address and two-way connectivity there is an opportunity not just to monitor but also to analyse the data and take control of the device. So I think over time a number of things will happen. First of all we will see a ramping of connectivity. Also, there will be a growing demand for the infrastructure and back-office systems to enable customers and their end users to not only manage a very complex environment, but also to manage data, and extract useful information.

What are your priorities over the next three years?

Our priority is to reposition the company from where it has been – that is providing services and support to customers – to playing a leading role in the next stage of the market’s development. We work across many industries, and while we don’t pretend to be an expert in any one of those industries, we do see a common set of requirements cross those industries. Our aim is to provide that horizontal enablement across those industry sectors. With our own SIMs, network and infrastructure we will remain agnostic in terms of device connectivity mechanisms.

How do you see your geographic focus changing over the next three years?

We recently announced a partnership with Numerex. This gives us a bilateral agreement between North America and Europe so that we can help each other in terms of providing connectivity. We focus on enabling our customers. So where growth presents itself we will work with our partners to support it.

We have good strong partnerships with others including KDDI who provide our infrastructure and we are building a number of other partnerships which help us look east, beyond Europe. Also, we are getting closer to some of our customers, helping them develop their business strategies.

We plan to work with partners that we feel will enable them and us to extend reach globally.

What would you say are the major challenges the machine to machine market faces?

Machine to machine connectivity is becoming commoditised very quickly and this is providing a false sense of simplicity that doesn’t take account of the difficulties and the complexities of making connectivity work properly and securely. A key challenge for the industry is to ensure that the connectivity element is not driven to such a commodity level that it adds little or no value. This is important because both the management and support of connectivity are large and difficult parts of the overall solution. The challenge is to make the connectivity easy to deploy, easy to manage and not priced at a level where it cannot be supported.

What factors are likely to be most helpful to the market?

If we look at the mobile telecoms market for example, Apple getting involved with the iPhone and Google getting involved with Android spurred the phenomenal growth that we are seeing now. The building blocks were there and they were developed by the telecoms companies but it needed those external players to get involved and change the game. I think the same thing will happen to machine to machine because it follows similar model to the growth of the Internet and what has been happening in the mobile environment. I can’t predict at what point this will happen but I suspect it will come along quicker than it did in the mobile world.

Which players or types of players are most likely to have the biggest impact on the development of the market?

The greatest impact will be by those that are best able to drive costs down across the value chain. Chipset developers have a large role to play as module costs are quite high and need to come down. There is also going to be a phenomenal amount of M2M data that needs to be managed so the role of service providers will become more important. I think also that focused, creative specialists like Arkessa are likely to deliver innovations that will impact the speed and direction of market development.

Are there particular technologies or approaches you think likely to be more successful than the others?

There are lots of radio technologies out there. Currently connectivity is primarily through mobile operators and by and large they provide a high level of coverage but this depends on the application. We have some applications where the devices are underground or in other poor coverage areas. Smart metering is a good example. Many of these meters are sitting under stairs where cellular coverage is very poor. White space radio shows great promise for such applications.

Talking about white space, in what timeframe do you expect this technology to be viable?

A lot of telecoms infrastructure vendors are implementing cognitive and software defined radio technologies in their equipment for a number of reasons, so it is an inevitability that the ability to utilise whitespace will come around. However, I think we are a couple of years away from this technology being a viable option. There is quite a lot of work to be done in areas like standardisation and development of business models, but I’m confident that white space radio will play a part in machine to machine connectivity.

What is your channel strategy?

We’re working very closely with preferred tier-one and tier-two connectivity partners to take our new platform to market.

We are also working with a number of our specialist vertical market customers who are leaders in their field to enable them to provide full machine to machine services without all the investment typically required to do this.

We think that there will be an increasing number of service providers that are not just providing connectivity for their applications but doing so on behalf of many different companies. Given the huge challenge and complexity involved in enabling such service providers to manage connections on behalf of their customers, we are providing the facility to enable our customers to rebrand our platform as theirs.

You mentioned tier-one and tier-two service providers. Aren’t they building their own machine to machine platforms?

All of the major operators are launching their global roaming platform to support a number of functions including use multiple networks and a higher level of device management than they have had in the past. We welcome all of those platforms and are already in the process of integrating a number of the global platforms from tier-one and tier-two operators. This will enable us to offer the capabilities of these platforms on the Arkessa portal. As far as Arkessa is concerned if someone wants to connect through us we can offer them the opportunity to manage their connectivity through these global platforms.

The operators do not compete with us because they are not doing what we’re doing. Their global platforms were developed specifically for them to manage their connectivity. In contrast, the Arkessa platform is developed to work across multiple operators’ connectivity. Effectively we work with the operators and it’s not just about aggregation. It is about the ability to manage and support the different types of connections provided by one or more operators. This makes us an important channel for many operators.

Can you give an example of how the relationship with operators works in practice?

An energy metering organisation might have hundreds of thousands of connections already deployed and plans to deploy millions more. Also, they may have sourced those connections through a variety of suppliers including operators and resellers. The difficulties they face in managing that whole estate is one that our platform addresses very efficiently. We can give them visibility and access to all their data. If they come to Arkessa, we do not even have to supply their network connections. They can remain with their current arrangements. We will point the devices towards our platform and instantly the organisation will have access to every device. If they want pervasive connectivity from us we can provide it.

How important are cloud services to your strategy?

They are very important. Not everyone wants to replicate machine to machine platforms and infrastructure. Many implementations can be hosted in the cloud. So we offer this facility to our customers if they want to implement a cloud-based solution. If they wish to implement dedicated infrastructure we can provide this and also provide an integration path to a cloud-based solution.

A first-stage implementation of Arkessa’s m2m Cloud solution has been installed by a large energy-monitoring bureau.  This is designed to enable their facilities to grow to meet the needs of the global utilities that use their services.

Two major systems integrators are currently exploring applications for our cloud services.

What is the next major development we can expect from Arkessa?

We are enabling the m2m Device Cloud for customers in a way which is secure, scalable, and customisable across various territories and we will continue to add features to our platform to give systems integrators more control and independence. In addition, we will continue to add features and optimise our existing service offerings and tools.

How might the machine-to-machine market develop over the next five years?

I have been involved in the mobile phone industry from the beginning and have managed service centres for operators. The development of the machine to machine market emulates the mobile phone market but I believe we are in for a period of extreme growth and market turmoil - market consolidation will also happen much faster than hitherto.

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